Lisa Thelen: Money in 'Gulliver's Travels'
In Jonathan Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels,' Gulliver finds himself in the land of the Houynhnms and the Yahoos, where he is brought to terms with the corruptions of human behavior. One of the many contrasts made between humans and the Houynhnms, a race of upstanding virtue and goodness, is the presence of money in human society. When Gulliver describes human life to the Houynhnm leader, he explains that the use of money, most often a valuable metal, is to purchase clothes, housing, land, and food. Since Swift's work is a satirical look at humanity, he explains that the more money you have, the nicer goods you can buy; he humorously writes that a lot of money can even get you your "choice of the most beautiful females." The Yahoos, who are basically humans, only more repulsive in their physical appearance and behavior, also have a certain substance that could be considered money. They dig up shining stones and store them, a reflection of what the Houynhnm leader calls the human trait of avarice. The Yahoos' money, however, apparently is only a store of value and is not used as a unit of exchange, as it is with humans. It is implied, from the leader's responses to Gulliver, that the
Houynhnms do not have any monetary market, and that they live in a socialistic community where all work is shared. They supply all goods from their own land, and all participate in the labor force for the production of goods. But the conspicuous absence of any specific description of the economy leads the reader to question it, and wonder if perhaps Swift could not conceive of a money-less economy that could be successful. Swift's satire attacks the avarice of man, suggesting it is caused by money, but he presents no viable alternative, suggesting that unfortunately, there is none.
Swift, Jonathan. 'Gulliver's Travels.' The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume I. 2000.